â€œThe first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.â€
I learned about Freshwater after someone (I don’t remember who) quoted a short passage on twitter. Just a single sentence or two â€” too short to know what the story was about, but beautiful enough to make me long to read the book. It was not yet published at the time, so I watched and waited and clicked the preorder link as soon as it appeared, then I waited some more for this beautiful book to be printed and shipped to me.
It was every bit worth the wait, because this debut novel is gorgeous.
â€œThere was a time before we had a body, when it was still building itself cell by cell inside the thin woman, meticulously producing organs, making systems.â€
Born in Nigeria, Ada begins life with a fractured self, burdened with the weight of god creatures that have been bound into her flesh. Living “with one foot on the other side” she is a troubled and volatile child who grows into a troubled and volatile adult, with a tendency toward outbursts and self harm. As she grows and moves to America, where she experiences a traumatic event, new selves crystalize within her, each providing their own protections and hungers.
Much of the story is told from the point of view of these god creatures (or spirit beings), which have their own needs and desires beyond that of Ada herself. Their story and her story blends together, as they have been blended together in spirit and flesh. It’s a fantastic rendering of having a fractured self, the confusing mix of desires and emotions that make up a person, the ways we work to protect and harm ourselves.
â€œI had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh.â€
The writing style in this book is lush and vibrant, evoking the energy and power of spirit realms represented in the voices of the gods the speak this story. It’s gorgeous on every page, bringing into existence a story that is unsettling, surprising, and powerful. This is a novel I will return to again and again.